Cue conditions and wayfinding in older and younger women

This study examined how varying the salience and complexity of environmental cues affects place learning in older versus younger women. Place learning is a critical cognitive function for wayfinding in new or changed environments that becomes impaired with age in many people. Environments such as nursing homes and assisted living facilities typically have poorly differentiated environments. Environmental modifications that influence how older adults learn places more effectively are not known. It was hypothesized that salient cues (prominent and distinctive) are particularly important to place learning. The Computer-Generated Arena was used to test this hypothesis in 20 healthy older (age 65+) women and 6 healthy younger (ages 18 to 35) women. Analyses of the data showed differences in place learning with respect to cue salience, complexity, and age, with younger women being much more proficient in the place learning task and with the best overall learning in the salient and complex cue conditions.